Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

To my fellow Obamab*ts – Snowden/Greenwald bashing is Missing the Point

OK. I’ve asterisked the title so as not to break any rules. And first up, as anyone who knows me

I am the biggest Obamab*t there is

But we seem to be falling out in recent weeks over the issue of the NSA and Snowden revelations. Thanks to my Murdoch investigations here during the Hackgate Scandal (which is still unfolding as you can see from my Daily Beast timeline) I’ve become a big fan of privacy, and antipathetic to corporate blackmail and surveillance.

So, when the extent of digital surveillance became apparent thanks to the Guardian and the Snowden revelations, my concern wasn’t over the Obama administration (most the programmes were established beforehand) nor indeed the character of the government. But one simple thing has always concerned me: the effect of this kind of surveillance on potential government whistleblowers and investigative journalism

One would have thought the chilling effects on whistleblowing and investigative journalism should concern every reporter.

On the vituperation heaped on Greenwald and the Guardian, I urge you to read David Carr in the New York Times

If the revelations about the N.S.A. surveillance were broken by Time, CNN or The New York Times, executives there would already be building new shelves to hold all the Pulitzer Prizes and Peabodies they expected. Same with the 2010 WikiLeaks video of the Apache helicopter attack.

Instead, the journalists and organizations who did that work find themselves under attack, not just from a government bent on keeping its secrets, but from friendly fire by fellow journalists. What are we thinking?

I couldn’t agree more: as I wrote a few days ago

Since when has the emotional complexion of the source been the main point of the story? The attacks on Greenwald display the same problem. He may be partisan, argumentative and thin-skinned (he blocked me on Twitter a year ago for an innocuous comment) but does that disqualify him from landing a major scoop? Attacking a source or intermediary is just another version of the ad hominem fallacy. Even a stopped clock is right twice a day. Journalism is about disclosure and transparency, not heroics and personality. It’s the story, stupid.

I’m still a fan of Obama. But you can’t rely on the governance of good people. As Evgeny Morosov has shown us over the failure of the Green Revolution in Iran, these same tools of social networking and communication can  be easily misused by rogue intelligence agencies, and for an future government, they are a secret policeman’s wet dream.

For the historic background I’d urge you to read James Bamford’s excellent piece in the New York Review of Books. As he says…

One man who was prescient enough to see what was coming was Senator Frank Church, the first outsider to peer into the dark recesses of the NSA. In 1975, when the NSA posed merely a fraction of the threat to privacy it poses today with UPSTREAM, PRISM, and thousands of other collection and data-mining programs, Church issued a stark warning:

That capability at any time could be turned around on the American people and no American would have any privacy left, such [is] the capability to monitor everything: telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter. There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyranny, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back, because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology…. I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.

I’m still an Obamabot. But I also still remember Bush. The issue of massive collusion between state and private corporations over surveillance is, unfortunately, an issue which transcends any particular President.

I hope my fellow Obamabots can take the long view, and not consider this just an attack on this administration. We came together over certain ideas of equality, liberty and justice. Those ends are not served an intelligence system that could quickly be turned to squash civil dissent.  


  1. We can’t “rely on the governance of good people”. I hold no illusions that another charleton and/or dolt will be elected to the presidency and that he or she will subvert the constitution just like Bush and Cheney and Yoo did.

    However, Greenwald is not being mocked and vilified for breaking a story. He is being mocked and vilified for making the story about himself. It is the Woodwardization of journalism. Bob Woodward is no longer satisfied being an investigative journalist. Any story he breaks is now more about him than the story.

    And any nuggets of truth are lost in the flotsam of ego.  

  2. bubbanomics

    However, I don’t think there is a “the point.” I see several points. I think I can order them in terms of importance. The gaps of importance values between are not necessarily uniform in scale.

    (1) What the NSA appears to be doing is detrimental to freedom, not only in the US but across the world.  It’s sad to see so many in DC, the President included, defending these programs that really infringe on our rights.

    (2) Procedures for whistleblowing in the US are apparently not functional and need to be revised pretty seriously. If a whistleblower with specific information of violations of law cannot find a re-dress without jail or worse, we will continue to see events like this.

    (3) Gov’ts keep secrets for good reasons. We don’t need access to some things.  Individuals with access to those secrets have certain duties. Just as it is disconcerting (to put it mildly) to have the gov’t doing terrible things, it is also disconcerting to think that each individual can decide according to his/her own value system which duties to uphold and which to abrogate. This is a non-trivial issue which can’t entirely be excused by (1) and (2).

    (4) Journalists who develop a reputation for “advocacy” rather than “reporting” may very well reap what they sow.

    (5) The world would be better off if Miley Cyrus followed most other child stars into obscurity.

  3. louisprandtl

    Greenwald is not important,  but why make him and who is making him the focus of the conversation? Surely it can’t be all Greenwald’s doing!

  4. princesspat

    The U2 Spy planes were tested and developed at Groom Lake, our former cattle range until the Government took advantage of my families naive patriotism and “bought” it. I grew up knowing the planes overhead were counting my freckles at recess!

    So, do I approve of governmental spying? Not I don’t, but I’m cynically resigned, not surprised.

    This may or may not be a legitimate site for more info re Area 51/Groom Lake. It’s honestly hard to know…..

    The issue of massive collusion between state and private corporations over surveillance is, unfortunately, an issue which transcends any particular President.

    And it defined my childhood…..

  5. Mets102

    to protect the people so long as those tools are within the bounds of the Constitution.  I don’t think governmental power is as narrow as some argue, but I certainly do not think it is as expansive as many elements of the national security apparatus argue that it is.

    The most important thing that comes with the NSA revelations is the ability to have the debate.  The messenger, unfortunately, is important and does become an issue because it is entwined in politics.  If it was pure whistleblowing, then, yes, I would be perfectly okay with it.  Additionally, a whistleblower that was doing so from a patriotic perspective would only release those documents that are pertinent and would not endanger national security.  Similarly, responsible members of the press would act in such a manner as well, IMHO.

    Beyond that, yeah, you pretty much speak for me.

  6. DeniseVelez

    I had to to think long and hard about responding to this, and didn’t feel comfortable doing so in the midst of an orange flame war at the other place.

    I agree wholeheartedly that all of us should be concerned about the chilling effects on journalism and investigative reporting.

    I certainly remember the results of the Church Commission – having been a target of COINtelpro.

    I guess where I disagree is that from my perspective there are two issues that I can’t separate.

    I do pay attention to the messenger, and how that messenger’s other agendas then are used to legitimize destabilizing attacks on the Democratic Party.  

    The same way I could dismiss Jane Hamsher (no matter that her stated positions on single payer were embraced by most progressives as a first choice) I could not accept her handholding and collusion with extreme right wingers.

    I have similar issues with the embracing of Rand Paul emoting about drones,  because he and his positions on my life and well-being are anathema.

    I reject his dad Ron, no matter that my students were gung ho over his purported embrace of marijuana reform.

    So Greenwald, Sirota and other “pundits” who get a lot of play in one segment of the left/liberal blogosphere are a problem for me. If a racist comes bearing gifts, I look the gift horse in the mouth.

    I’m able to address security and privacy concerns without making heroes of Greenwald and his ilk.

    The Randian baggage that Greenwald carries is dangerous. Having observed much of the flaming and pie swirling around this over the last few months, and having examined to the best of my ability the people who are using this to push a very similar agenda to the one that erupted over health care reform and FISA, I’m more than leery.

    If all of this current tempest serves to distract from garnering support for issues that from my own personal perspective are far more important, like voting rights (which is at the top of my agenda) I then have to examine and question, why it is that the “left” is screaming now – and didn’t really do so when COINtelpro was murdering people close to me.  

    You are able to describe him as simply “partisan, argumentative and thin-skinned”.  I’m not. That’s where we differ on this.

    I see him as yet another bright white shiny object rolled-out like a Trojan Horse to increase the rifts in fragile solidarities that must be crafted and maintained in order to win the next series of elections. Those elections can mean the difference between life and death for poc’s and women in some parts of the U.S.  

    I’m responding here, simply because at Moose we can have sane disagreement. I have no interest in fighting (all over again) charges of shilling and being accused of corporatist, oligarchical leanings and provocateur-ism and being a tool of the Obama administration. It is a deep insult to all that I stand for.  But it has devolved to that. It has once again encouraged incursions in dead threads into the front porch and some ugly flaming on both sides.

Comments are closed.